Monday, March 13, 2017

Connecting the dots

The canyon road where Grandma spent years herding cattle with her family.
They had a small home near here where they stayed during the summer months.
My grandma Rhoda is always on my mind this time of year. It was 6 years ago in February the she died, and we share April for our birthday month, so she’s in my thoughts lately. On Saturday we were driving south on I-15 from Brigham City. I thought of how many times she must have driven on that road between her family home in Portage and her home to the south. I like seeing the untouched landscape, knowing that I am seeing exactly what she saw in the sunset on the water or the jagged cuts in the skyline created by mountains unchanged by time. I wondered how she felt driving south in December 1941. My grandpa had a new job in St George. She was moving from the very northern border of Utah to the very Southern border. She was about 6 months pregnant with her first baby. I always imagined the move to be exciting, but last week I realized how terrified she must have been, pregnant and leaving her family and all she had known to live in a desert far from her green mountain home. I wonder if she knew that her life path would never really bring her home again. Her mom came to St. George a few months later to be there when the baby came, but the due date came and went, and Great-Grandma left before the delivery. How devastatingly lonely that must have felt watching Great-Grandma drive away with such a huge life event literally looming in front of her.
Grandma (9 months pregnant and) hiding behind her mother who was visiting and waiting for the baby to arrive.
Grandma and Grandpa moved a lot in St. George. They’d just get settled somewhere in a rented house, and the owner would return from the war, so they’d move to another home. 17 years later my grandpa was reassigned to Lehi. Again, she had to leave her home where she had finally made friends and fit into the community only to carve out a place in new town. So they began again, moving all around their new town as needs and budgets and plans changed.

If you haven’t moved a lot, you can’t imagine how it feels to be somewhere completely new. While fresh starts can be exciting, there is lot of not-exciting mixed in. There are no familiar faces at church, you know no one at the library, no one at the grocery store, no one at the elementary school, no one on your kid’s sports teams, no one. The roads are unfamiliar, the stores are different, the climate and the soil and the air and even the water---all unfamiliar and requiring an adjustment. Usually you move into a place where people already have a routine of life, and they flow around you. There you are, everyone else in their natural rhythm going the places they usually go, while you turn in circles because you really can’t get a feel for which way North is in this new terrain of earth and people. Even when a few faces become familiar, they still gravitate to where they have always been and not necessarily to you. It is HARD.

Grandma with her father and all 7 sisters.
I spent a few days in 2003 interviewing my grandma and 4 of her sisters. It was the best time ever. They are delightful together, each so beautiful and unique. They told a story of one time when the sisters were traveling to visit a brother in California. They had planned to stop in St. George for lunch with Grandma. The only problem was when they got to her house, Grandma wasn’t home. They let themselves in (who locked the doors in those days?). When grandma still didn’t show for a while they made themselves some sandwiches and went on their way. They didn’t call, after all they were sitting right next to her phone. However they did call when they got to California. Grandma had been home after all. The real problem was that Grandma had moved to a new home in town. Either the sisters had forgotten or Grandma hadn’t told them. They laughed until they cried as they remembered that day, thinking of the poor person at the old home who must have wondered who in the world brought a half-dozen people into their home and freely ate of all their food. I hope they at least cleaned up after themselves.
 A quick glance at my memory of that day show Grandma laughing with the rest of them, just not nearly as much; she’s still touched with a sadness at the memory. How she must have looked forward to their visit. Knowing her, I’m sure she thought for at least a week about what to serve for lunch. Maybe she even saved a little of the month’s grocery budget to make the afternoon extra special. I imagine her setting the food out, glancing out the window, then sitting on the porch for a while, waiting to wave at her siblings as they pulled up---familiar faces and embraces in the unfamiliar landscape of her new home. She probably called her mom to find out if they left home on time or what the holdup could be. Then after a while she probably put the food back in the fridge, wondering what happened, aching for what she imagined the afternoon would have been if they had come.

It IS a funny story, but she never really told her side of the story. I don’t think 50 years had managed to completely erase how she felt that afternoon.  Google says that it would take more than five and half hours to travel to St. George from Portage at today’s speeds on today’s freeways and highways. I imagine back then it would have been close to a 7-hour trip or more, so I don’t think visits with any family would have happened more than once or twice a year. Phone calls were long-distance, and no one had money to spare at the time. She must have been so lonely. That visit would have been the highlight of her month, maybe even the year.
After Grandma moved to Lehi she cut at least four hours off the drive time and saw her family more. They came to her home, and she drove up to see her mom and siblings often. But going home is never the same after you leave. Things change starting the day you drive away. Your parents remodel or move, neighbors change, scenery changes, and even if all of that doesn’t change, you change. You change so much that the piece you carved out for yourself all of your early life somehow isn’t the right shape or size for you now, even when it once fit so seamlessly. Suddenly what once was all you knew, is somehow just  a faded portion of a book you read a few years ago---you recognize it, but it just isn’t the same. That disconnect between what was and what is creates a hollowing feeling that deepens at a rate equal to the size of the ever-growing division of reality.

When Grandma couldn’t drive because of age and eyesight, we drove her to see her family. In her older years it wasn’t as easy for her to travel, so she counted down the days until they were coming to see her. When they were coming she told all of our family of the expected visit, and we all looked forward to arrival. If the sisters were ever late or left earlier than she had imagined they would leave, she was visibly upset for a few days. We always thought it was strange that she was so affected by their comings and goings.
Grandma and Grandpa with 5 of her sisters on their 50th wedding anniversary.

When I interviewed Grandma in 2003 I didn’t know that my life for the next 12 years would match hers with lots of moves and lots of new people and lots of miles between home and HOME. I think I get it now, why their visits affected her so much. Grandma loved visiting her hometown, but even more, she loved it when her family came to see her. When you move a lot, your life is divided in pieces of “when we lived in this house” or “when we lived in that house.” You kind of live a lot of different lives, almost becoming a different you each time you move because you evolve somewhat depending on friends and circumstance and the passing of time.

I remember the day Kyle was baptized. We had moved four months earlier, and we had lunch at our new home after the service. Our parents and most of our siblings and their families were here. Some of our old friends from other cities came. I looked around at each of their faces, and for the first time in months, I felt like I was actually in my own home.

Family is the connecting piece. No matter where you live or which home you are in, it can sometimes feel like a stop along the way. But when your parents and siblings are with you in your home, they somehow connect the dots and make you whole. They are the constant path of people who have always known you---all of the yous from all of the places. Somehow they center you; they are evidence that life actually has continued from place to place---the constant in a life that has lacked familiar consistency: the true north we were seeking all along.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

There are no words

My last baby is 18 months old. The day he was born started a countdown to the end. His every first is my every last. It is killing me. I am struggling with how to say goodbye to this portion of my life. It is the part of my life that I have lived my life to have. All of my life I have thought “One day I'll grow up, get married, and have babies.” There was never anything after that. Who am I if I'm not having babies?

Sunday morning I was washing Jay's hair. He looked up at me, hair full of suds, eyelashes gathered and dripping with water, eyes bright with whatever puts the light in baby eyes. I pushed the hair from his forehead up to join the rest of his hair and he looked right at me. Time froze. He seemed to be every baby from my first to the last. The scent of baby shampoo The big trusting eyes. The same straight brown hair. I remembered his sister. How unsure I was of what to do with a baby in the bath, but my heart was so full reveling in my new life that I thought it could burst. His oldest brother came to me when I needed him most---a devoted son to love and take care of during a time in my life where I needed to focus on something wonderful while my world swirled threateningly around me. His closest brother came after years of heavenward pleading and his first year was filled with constant prayers and tears of gratitude. And back to Jay. This last baby. This gift to me from God Himself. A perfect package of a baby who eats and sleeps and plays and loves. If ever there was a grand finale, it is him. He blinked and I realized that these baths are now numbered. What 11 years ago seemed to be a blissful and endless number of baby baths ahead of me has now proved to be finite. It's almost over.

That thought overwhelmed me. I was sobbing before I even knew I was crying. How to let go? I sat on the floor and cried---my baby blissfully unaware by my side playing with his belly button and bath toys. These moments! These precious moments with my precious babies. The joy has been in every step of the journey.

I knew he was my last. He's the last for so many reasons. I'm getting old. We have three others. I've lost too many pregnancies to dare try again---I need to save what is left of my sanity. The others are too old, so old that if we have more Claire's entire childhood will be encumbered with naps and the nausea of morning sickness. Most of all, Jay is enough. I held on to every second since the moment I saw his heartbeat on ultrasound. I never wished away a night or a feeding or a day. I kissed him twice every time that I kissed him once. I looked back over my shoulder as I left the room every night and every nap. I held him tight and whispered “my baby, my baby, my baby” wishing for those moments to etch within my soul, never to be forgotten. And yet the sands of time dropped even faster, slick within my palms as I clenched at them.

We went to lunch with Taylor's grandma yesterday. She is 92. Together we admired Jay, his beautiful baby body, and his little voice that I am certain is the sweetest baby voice that has ever been. “Are you just always sad that they grew up? Do you always just want more babies? Even now?” I asked of her while we were seated. She nodded. With tears in her eyes she looked away and told me of the day when her daughter got married and moved her things from the family home to begin her new life. “I looked out that window and thought I couldn't make it through the day! How could I bear it? All of those clothes, all...just gone.” Even while we had this conversation there was chaos next to me, my three-year-old sat next to us taking a bite out of every roll in every basket. I had to take a giant knife from his hand and straighten his chair a dozen times so he wouldn't fall. But still these thoughts and tender emotions hung heavy in the air. And although 60 years divide us, we sat without words and only with feelings for a while---because who can find words to speak of this beautiful, beautiful heartbreak.

With this on my mind today, we played play doh and popped popcorn on the stove and in song and watched trucks on youtube. And while I cleaned up after lunch this song, “Stand Still” by Hilary Weeks came over Pandora. It seems to fit how I'm feeling. And apparently how I'll be feeling for the next 60 years.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Lessons about God from parenting

I've had a lot of thoughts about things going on in my church lately. Tonight while I was making dinner (for what seemed like hours), I came up with this comparison which I think makes sense. When I read what was going on I was alarmed, but when I read the reasons why, I understood. I realize that it isn't that way with a lot of people. I'm not one to push things on facebook or to engage in commentary where I know that neither side is really looking to budge. But if I were giving advice to a friend with questions, this is what I would say.:

I think God wants us to be parents so that we can better understand Him and His role as God. So many situations of parenting can help us understand the choices He has to make and the role he plays in our lives. So, here goes.

Let's say you've had a really long day. There was so much on your list to do and you had to haul your kids through 3 counties to do it. Right before bedtime you hear your youngest daughter scream. You turn around just in time to see your oldest daughter hitting her sister on the back with a fly swatter----for the second time! And then she winds up for a third swing! You. Lose. It. This is the last thing you need. You yell at your child, she tries to explain why she did it, but you'll hear none of it. You saw what happened, no explanation is needed, and she has to go to bed RIGHT NOW.

Later that night you're still mad. Why would she hit her sister? You google it. You read articles on sibling rivalry, articles written by people who were picked on by siblings, articles about how to parent better, articles on why it's okay that children fight, articles on why it's not okay for children to fight. It's still hard to figure out what to do. You post it on your facebook page: Why do my kids fight all the time? Your friends all have their own theories. After a while you check off your to-do list for the day and start to feel bad about your reaction with your daughter. She was so good all day. She was patient while you ran endless errands, she cleaned her room, and she did her homework without being asked. Out of a hundred actions that day, this ONE was not okay, and you chose to focus on that instead of all the good. Before you go to bed you flip through Instagram. You happen to look at your own personal pictures. You see the last three or four years of the ways you celebrated your daughter and her accomplishments. Your heart warms. SO many good experiences and memories. She is good! She will turn out after all.

The next morning, when you've both slept on it, you ask her what was going on last night. Why in the world was she hitting her sister? “Mom,” she explains, “there was a spider on her back!” Well, that makes sense at least. You respond that it's not what you would have personally chosen to do, but you can see why she did it.

Maybe this decision is like that. You don't get it. It caught you off guard. You were so angry and didn't understand. But then you remembered all of the great experiences you've had with the church. Prayers that were answered. Blessings that healed and comforted. The feeling you have in the temple---the really good one that doesn't happen every single time. The feeling you had when you were sealed to your spouse. The day your baby was blessed. The day grandma died or you miscarried your baby and you suddenly understood why forever mattered so much. Scriptures that have changed you. Your patriarchal blessing that has outlined your life in ways you couldn't imagine when you were 14. The temple marriage that you want for your children. The prayer you prayed all night long that was answered miraculously. You knew it when you were 8. You knew it when you were 18. You have 99 reasons to love the church, and this one leaves you wondering. The answers aren't on google. They aren't in dozens of bloggers or facebook comments. The answer is found simply by asking The One who created all of this. He'll tell you why, and he's told you why through prophets. And even if it's not what you would have personally chosen to do, His answer does make sense. Go with that and love the 99 other reasons because they are SO good.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In response to the woman who looks down on young mothers

A few of my Facebook friends posted a link to a post by a woman who said she looks down on young mothers. She thought that she was much better off making a name for herself in her career. She felt like mothers who say it is hard to be a homemaker are making it up. There was more, but I skimmed.

It made me angry for a bunch of reasons. I have done hard things in my life, but being a full-time mother and wife and homemaker definitely is the hardest thing I've ever done. The article mentions housework and laundry---and there is a lot of it. But it's not about the laundry---that's not the hard part. It's about people. I'm slowly building people every day, and there is no instruction manual. There is no time off. There is no way of ever feeling like you are ever doing enough. There is no paycheck or yearly bonus or raise to say you are on the right track. It is hard!

I loved having a career. I loved going to work every day---to put on nice clothes and jewelry and new(ish) shoes and to go somewhere abounding with adults. How nice it would be to have lunch with friends or [gasp!] alone. BUT having a career, especially one with aspirations of moving up the cooperate ladder, is only about YOU.  Sure, your assignments may be challenging, your coworkers may be trying, your boss may even be unforgiving---but in the end you keep going, not for the good of anything else but YOU and the advancement of YOU. The article mentions getting a promotion, landing a dream job or backpacking through Asia. All about YOU. How easy to live in a world that is all about you. So really, I think she's the one lying about saying it's hard. What's so hard about living only for yourself?

I was thinking about this over lunch. I was angry that she would say what she said. I put the plates away, cleaned up the cooking mess, and went to clean Grayson up. Every day after lunch I wash his hands with a baby wipe. He loves it. He loves to be clean and crumb-free. He held out his hand, and I held it in mine.

"Washy hands, washy hands" I sing. But this time I really look at his hands. So small, so squishy, and so full of baby fat to the point that they almost burst. His knuckle dimples are still perfectly there at 18 months, but the once-tight roll around his wrist is loosening as he grows and thins with age. As I wash them, I tell him about his hands. How many good things they will do. How they will hold a pencil in kindergarten; how they will figure algebra equations in high school; how I hope they will type his life stories of adventures and faith; how they will one day wash the hands of a baby all his own. How lucky he will be if he gets to do that!

And suddenly, I am just sad for the woman who feels sorry for me. Sad that she will never wash the hands that pat her cheeks or [as gently as possible] stroke her hair; hands that clasp so tightly at the back of her neck that somehow it feels her heart could burst. Sad that she won't cherish pictures drawn by tiny hands. Sad that her fridge won't be adorned by carefully formed pre-school letters that spell only "M-O-M" but mean everything. Sad that she won't hear a one-year-old say the happiest words he knows, "Mom-Mom." Because it's not about me, even though I am his world, it's about him. And that is better than all of the paychecks, all of the lunches out, all of the ladder-climbing and glory-chasing. There is never an end to that. But Grayson, this boy---these hands---they are more than enough.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Potato Soup

This is certainly not a cooking blog. But I made a dairy-free potato soup that is probably worth sharing, and at the very least, worth keeping track of. I had a bunch of potatoes, and I couldn't find a recipe online that I was thrilled about, so I combined a few and made my own. I thought it was above average, definitely better than other potato soups I've tried. My kids, who cry about a lot of different foods, thought it was great. They even SAID it was great without being asked. Grayson had two servings. Anyway, here it is:

Dairy-free potato soup
8 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons dried parsley
3.5 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 Caldo de pollo cube (yup, I don't know what they are, but I sure like them. They seem to be just a little different from regular bouillon cubes)
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
Seasoning salt to taste (maybe that's redundant after regular salt?)

1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon flour
3 cups almond milk (not vanilla flavored! I used the kind with 60 calories per serving)

12 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled.

Put potatoes, celery, onion, parsley, water, bouillon cubes, caldo de pollo, salt, pepper and seasoning salt in a large pot and boil until potatoes are tender

Meanwhile combine almond milk and flour. I warmed the milk up in the microwave for 90 seconds. Not sure if that's necessary.

When vegetables are tender, add milk/flour mix and stir over heat until thickened to your liking. At this point I added more seasoning salt. Also, add the bacon while waiting for soup to thicken.

I added cheese to the bowls of those in my family who can have cheese, and it was delicious. Probably it would have been good with sour cream too.

This made enough for all of us to have a little less than 2 cups of soup with leftovers for tomorrow.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sleep {yaaaawwwn}

Everyone knows we've had problems with Grayson's sleep. "Problems" doesn't really describe the lack of sleep we've had for the last 14 months of our lives. Lots of people have asked how it has gone and what we have tried. I thought I'd document it here. Mostly because I know if I wrote down all of our secrets for future use, I would probably lose the paper.

The good news is he's sleeping again. During the last ten days he has slept past 7 am all but one night. We don't know what the secret is, but we've tried a few things. First, I quit nursing. I was upset about it. I quit nursing Claire at about 15 months because she was biting (but she quit the last few days and that made me regret quitting). I felt a lot of pressure to quit nursing Kyle when he was 12 months old because he was a boy and could walk. I didn't want to quit and neither did he, but I did. And he got an ear infection the next week. I regreted that. I was determined to nurse Gray until we were both comfortable moving on. But we did notice that he had a trend of waking at 5, nursing, then snuggling up to me in bed and going back to sleep. And it was obvious that he loved nursing. So we slowed down and he quit on the 23rd. He took it well. And I, despite sudafed and benadryl and peppermint oil, cannot quit producing milk. But that's TMI and irrelevant. Anyway, we quit nursing and he started sleeping two days later.

But that wasn't all. Concurrently we started giving him a peanut butter sandwich before bed every night. We put him in fleece pajamas and covered him with two blankets and left the ceiling fan on all night.

We also quit giving him dairy in any form. The sleep problems began two weeks before we gave him milk in a bottle, but as soon as we gave him a bottle of milk his nose was gross and solid and he had 2 blowout diapers every day. Within a week of quitting milk everything kind of got better, and then when we took the yogurt and cheese and butter out of his diet he was almost instantly better. This is also why I quit nursing. It stressed me out to watch MY diet and his for milk. I need chocolate and cheese. Since he's technically old enough to go without nursing, I just couldn't limit myself (I already go without Diet Coke. This was just too much.)

Anyway, we saw a sleep specialist in West Jordan (here:  She was super helpful, and even though he, ironically, was sleeping well 3-4 nights before the appointment, we thought it was worth our time and money. She said for our problem (which was 2 whole months of daily repeat awakening throughout the night where he would usually stay up for three or more hours after waking; or he would just wake up at 4 or 5 and be up for the day), that the Ferber progressive waiting technique would be best. She said each time we check on him that we should repeat the same loving message each time, and take less than 60 seconds to do it. She said it would be bad the first night, awful the second night, then progressively better. She expected it to be better after 4 nights. So far he's slept, so we'll see what happens if (heaven forbid) he gets in a bad funk again. She also felt that weaning probably did the most good for him. Apparently just by spending a little bit of time with him, she felt like Gray was an emotionally intelligent baby and had learned to emotionally manipulate me to nurse him. (Not MY sweet boy! Gasp!) She also gave some general good advice:

  • Nightlights, if absolutely necessary, should be behind the head and below eye level.
  • Babies should never sleep after 4pm
  • Keep his room completely dark (like with light-blocking curtain panels) during naps and night. If using the Ferber method, then make sure that light doesn't enter from the hallway when you check on the baby. 
  • Upon awakening, the room should be almost instantly flooded with light. This light/dark cycle will set circadian rhythms. 
  • She stressed the importance of naps being scheduled. I realized that I just had him nap 4-5 hours after waking up. If he got up at 6, he napped at 10. If he got up at 8, he napped at noon. She said that he needs to learn to have a nap at a set time of day. This teaches him that there is a time to be awake and a time to be asleep, and you don't get to choose. He also has a strict bedtime.
So that's it. I can't say how glad I am that he's sleeping again. Strangely, I feel more tired than ever. It's like my body is saying, "I love this sleep thing. Let's do more of it." I expect to adjust soon, but I find myself just waking at night for no reason. I'm one of those people now! 

Thursday, September 12, 2013


This morning I watched the video that Teresa Scanlan posted to YouTube about her depression and suicidal thoughts that started with being crowned Miss America.

I think many of us would have the initial thought, "You won Miss America! You don't get to be sad about that or about anything else for the rest of your life!" In fact, I am sure that there are hundreds (thousands?) of girls every year who are depressed because they did NOT win Miss America or another pageant title. I know many of them. I was sad. Maybe even very sad. And while we're being honest I'll admit this:  Sometimes (usually just while watching the pageant) I'm still a little sad and wonder what it would have been like to walk that famous runway with a crown on my head. I may have cried most of the way home from Atlantic City. Just keepin' it real. Isn't it funny that the second someone else wins we're supposed to give up on a dream that we've devoted every waking hour to for years (and sometimes for a lifetime) and be happy that someone else gets to live that dream? And we're supposed to do that on live TV? Am I alone here?
This is me leaving the Miss America stage after I didn't make the top five.
I remember feeling like a wrecking ball was sweeping me away.
BTW, I really just wanted a full-sequin dress. I didn't wear it during competition. Thank goodness.
Anyway, I'm not writing this about that. It's about the video, which is heartbreaking. Teresa is my favorite Miss America in the last decade. I have always loved that she is Christian and is unapologetic of how often she speaks of Christ. She is gorgeous and gracious. I keep a signed picture of her in Claire's room. I'm a fan. How unfortunate that, in our electronic society, people can hide behind the anonymity of a screen name and call good people awful things because they are jealous and vicious and sad. I get that when you enter a pageant you are asking to be judged---but you are only asking to be judged BY THE JUDGES during the pageant.

Even twelve years ago when I won Miss Utah the very first comment on a news website was, "Looks like the new Miss Utah needs to go on a diet." I remember that, word for word, and not a single other comment. Although I do remember that Danielle White stood up for me. Thank you, Danielle! In that picture I weighed about 112 pounds and hardly had any fat in my body (thanks to something I ate in Mexico!). My dress was tight on my newly acquired abs and shined strangely in the picture while I was kind of squatting to be crowned. Someone sure felt it was their right to say that about me on the biggest night of my life. Classy. I knew it wasn't true, but I've never forgotten.

This is the picture that inspired people to criticize my weight.
I hope this video can be a wake-up call to the Miss America Organization at a national and state level. I'm sure it's something that they are very aware of and probably are even addressing, but it seems like more can be done. I doubt that Teresa is alone in how she felt, and I'm sure she's joined by national and state titleholders who, like her, simply were overwhelmed by life in the spotlight and the rigorous schedule of a titleholder. We *think* we know what we're getting into, they certainly tell you what you're getting into, but you can't actually know until you've lived it day-in and day-out.

Maybe this is just because I'm married to a therapist, but I think MAO and state organizations should insist on and provide for regular preventative therapy for their titleholders. My year as Miss Utah was very stressful for many, many reasons. I want to be clear: I WANTED to be Miss Utah. I worked very hard and devoted two years of my life to become Miss Utah. I LOVED being Miss Utah. I wouldn't trade it for the world. But by the time the year was over and I had traveled to every corner of the state with nearly 800 appearances, I was done; my family was done. It is HARD to stay thin when everywhere you go everyone is taking you to the best restaurant for the best food. It is hard to keep a talent stage-ready when there just isn't time to devote to practice or when pianos simply aren't available. It is hard to ignore the nearly constant criticism, however well-intentioned, that you get from directors and travelling companions and random people on the street. You did great, BUT... You talk too fast. You wore the wrong shoes. Your lipstick is wrong. Your hair is wrong. Next time say this. Here's how to improve next time. Next time be someone else entirely. And social media, while thankfully not around when I was wearing a crown, must be brutal. I just can't even imagine.

Maybe with therapy---which offers a pair of listening, confidential ears and hopefully good advice---we'd have even better titleholders. My family and local directors were amazing at always being there and always listening, but I still felt pressure to please them. It would have been nice to talk to a disinterested party. Society isn't going to change. It's too bad. Those comments will always be made. But we need to be pro-active and help our girls before they reach the point that Teresa did. I have heard many state titleholders from Utah and around the country say that they were happy and felt loved every second. But I've also had heart-to-heart talks with other girls who felt the same or heard from others involved that things weren't well. I'm not blaming MAO or MUO. Pageants, by their very nature are a judged competition. When you compete you are saying "judge me." But when so much criticism comes from every single media outlet, and every single pageant person around you is telling you you were great but has a suggestion for next time, it is hard.

Again, I need to say that I loved being Miss Utah. It was life-changing and a privilege for which I will always be grateful. I am grateful for everyone who sacrificed for me and who devoted time to my year as Miss Utah. I will always be grateful to MAO for the experience and for the scholarships (I paid $25 for my entire education!). There are so many good things about pageants. Miss America contestants at every level offer so much good to the world through community service. I think there is absolutely a place for Miss America in today's world, and I hope that it never ends. But society is changing. Instead of embracing good, society discourages and downplays and questions everything lovely.

I admire Teresa for her courage in releasing this video during Miss America Week, and I hope that all of us in "Pageantland" can be supportive of her and not continue to be critical of her. I think she is very brave, and she is not alone. Most importantly, I hope that preventative measures can be taken so no one has to feel that way again.

**Now part of me wants to delete this and never post it. I keep thinking that maybe I'm too critical and I'll never be asked to judge or emcee a pageant ever again. And probably like two people will read this anyway, so there's nothing to worry about. I also keep thinking that I should email it to my mom, my husband, my mother-in-law, and my sister to see what they think. How odd that when I'm writing that we should just let the titleholder be herself and not try to judge her so much, that I'm still looking for approval and critiques. So I'll post it. And I know I'll be criticized.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

My "essay" on motherhood

I spoke in church last Mother's Day. Before I speak I write things down word-for-word and then paraphrase when I actually get up there. I thought it would be a good day to post what I said last year:

Claire was visibly upset one day last year. I sat down and asked her what was wrong. She asked, “Do you think I'll be a good mom one day?” I told her that she'd be great at being a mom. “But how?” she cried, “All you ever do is clean all day, and I HATE cleaning!” I assured her that there is more to being a mom than cleaning—although sometimes it doesn't seem like that.

You probably already know this, but I am really, really good at a lot of things. If I want to accomplish something, and I set my mind to it, I can do it. Throughout my life I excelled in all of my schooling, I put in the hours to be really good at playing the piano. I made the top ten at Miss America. I even convinced my husband to marry me. I've been really good at almost everything I've tried throughout my life, so when I became a mother I thought I'd be really great at it.

But it is hard. Sometimes it seems like there are days and even months where my head is barely above water. The day-to-day responsibilities of being a mother, the obligation that I have to teach them to be good people, to help them get an education, even just to get them to be reverent during Sacrament Meeting—it can all just be very overwhelming. Even though it feels like I clean all day, I must not because I'm horrible at keeping our home clutter-free. I've been known to get frustrated with my kids—sometimes even to raise my voice. I'm not always patient with them, I probably expect too much of them, and we may have even had cereal for dinner last Sunday. Somehow I just thought it would be easier.

A quote I've loved lately is from a recent interview with Sister Julie Beck. It was featured in LDS Living Magazine. It says, “I’ve learned that the world teaches us that we can have the dream now. They express the dream as what Adam and Eve had in the garden—you don’t have to work for anything and everything is peaceful and happy. That’s really where the adversary still is. But we chose to have a mortal experience to prepare for the real dream, and that dream is eternal life. Eve was willing to go through a long, hard mortal experience in order to work toward the promise of the dream—I don’t think most women realize that. They’re trying to make it be the dream now. We don’t get that here. What we get here is the experience.”

This “experience” stuff is hard! I know a lot of people struggle with Mother's Day because they focus on all of their failings as a mother, seeing only the successes of other mothers. As I was preparing for this talk I saw all of the things that an “ideal mother” would be or do. I am not the ideal mother, for sure. I don't think any of us are perfect in every way—but we can strive to improve in small ways. And we need to realize that there are small ways in which we are ideal. As we go throughout the day hearing about mothers, maybe pick a few ways to improve, but also pat yourself on the back for the great job you really are doing.

In another talk, Sister Beck says, 
“The responsibility mothers have today has never required more vigilance. More than at any time in the history of the world, we need mothers who know. Children are being born into a world where they wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places, however, mothers need not fear. When mothers know who they are and who God is and have made covenants with Him, they will have great power and influence for good on their children.

Female roles did not begin on earth, and they do not end here. A woman who treasures motherhood on earth will treasure motherhood in the world to come, and 'where [her] treasure is, there will [her] heart be also.'” 

By developing a mother heart, each girl and woman prepares for her divine, eternal mission of motherhood.

My mom is really great. Looking back, I realize that she gave me and my siblings two very important gifts. First, she taught me of my Heavenly Father's love for me, of the truthfulness of the gospel, and she was a great example of living the gospel. We saw first-hand that my parents were committed to being active members of the church. As a family we attended church together every single week no matter what—and we saw our parents diligently fulfill whatever calling they had in the church—whether it be big or small.

Second, my mother taught me to be a mother. This didn't start when Claire was born—it was a lifetime of lessons given both by example and by pointing out other mothers who also provided positive examples.

Because of this, it is my highest priority in raising my children to teach them first to love the gospel, and then second to grow to be caring parents and spouses. Kyle can already load and unload a dishwasher better than probably half of the men in the audience. He is compassionate and caring and empathetic and loving—and we consciously try to help him recognize and improve these qualities which will help him to be a great husband and father. Although he will tell you that he loves me so much that he wants to live with me and take care of me until I die, I'm sure one day he'll leave, and he'll be really great because we've prepared him to be great.

Claire wants to be a mom more than anything else in life. If you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, the answer has always been “A mom.” Sometimes I wonder if that's because I make it look so great—or because she just thinks she could do a much better job! She is a wonderful sister and cousin, and it's so fun to see motherly qualities blossom in her as she cares for her dolls and her brother and other children. She and I have always referred to Kyle as “our” baby, and she takes that to heart. I don't know that a sister has ever loved having a little brother as much as Claire loves Kyle. She keeps a little scrapbook. In it she has a picture of Kyle when he was one year old. She writes, “I think that Kyle is cute here, but I like him just as much now that he is 4.” Her desire to nurture is so strong, that I can't help but think of the proclamation on the family where it says, “ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” It later states, “THE FAMILY is ordained of God...By divine design...Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”

 While we stress the importance of education to Claire, and we do all that we can to help her learn all that she can—she knows what she is preparing to become. Even though she is just six years old, she already has a mother heart. She is growing to understand Harold B Lee's counsel that “The most important of the Lord's work you will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own home.”

Sister Beck also said, “I was recently at a park where I met a group of women with mother hearts. They were young, covenant-keeping women. They were bright and had obtained advanced degrees from respected universities. Now they were devoting their considerable gifts to planning dinner that evening and sharing housekeeping ideas. They were teaching two-year-olds to be kind to one another. They were soothing babies, kissing bruised knees, and wiping tears. I asked one of those mothers how it came about that she could transfer her talents so cheerfully into the role of motherhood. She replied, “I know who I am, and I know what I am supposed to do. The rest just follows.” That young mother will build faith and character in the next generation one family prayer at a time, one scripture study session, one book read aloud, one song, one family meal after another. She is involved in a great work. She knows that “children are an heritage of the Lord” and “happy is the [woman] that hath [a] quiver full of them.” She knows that the influence of righteous, conscientious, persistent, daily mothering is far more lasting, far more powerful, far more influential than any earthly position or institution invented by man. She has the vision that, if worthy, she has the potential to be blessed as Rebekah of old to be “the mother of thousands of millions.”

Again, this paints a pretty picture of family prayer, family scripture study, book reading, song singing and family meals. These things collectively and individually are NOT easy! In our home we have certainly ended a Family Home Evening or two with unhappy children and unhappy parents. We often wrestle children in the middle of family prayer. Sometimes only the person who reads the scriptures out loud at night hears what is said. But as the quote says, raising children requires “righteous, conscientious, persistent, daily mothering.”

Sometimes that seems exhausting though. All of the family meals, all of the scripture study, all of the persistent daily mothering. I like to think of the saying, “Life is hard by the yard, but by the inch, life's a cinch.” Some days are really hard. Some weeks are hard. Some months are hard. But moments are usually pretty doable.

In my very best moments I like to take time to congratulate myself. When my kids are happy and we're playing together and I get the feeling that I'm doing the very best thing I could be doing at that moment, I'm so happy, and I take it all in—especially if dinner is made and the house is semi-clean. But those small moments are the grand rewards of motherhood. I'm starting to understand what Mary felt in Luke 2:19 which reads, “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” We're always told that kids grow up fast, but you don't believe it until you realize that it's your baby losing teeth and skipping to kindergarten.

I think I've started to catalog moments to keep in my heart. The moments they were born. Claire's smile and early attempts at humor. Kyle's uninhibited nature and fierce devotion to me. The spontaneous moments when I find myself with them at the piano and they sing along to a primary song. And now the kicks and squirms of our new baby, growing inside me. In these tiny moments, time slows down, life is perfect, and I know that I am doing what my Heavenly Father wants me to do.

***So that was what I said. That last sentence is a thought I've had a lot lately. I don't know if at any other time in my life I've been as sure that I'm doing what God would have me be doing—at least in the big picture—I am a mother to children. (In the small, detailed, daily picture of the things God would have me be doing, there is always work!) But I find so much comfort in knowing that I am where He wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do.

And to make this even longer, here are a few more quotes about mothering that I really love.

Julie Beck: Who will prepare this righteous generation of sons and daughters? Latter-day Saint women will do this—women who know and love the Lord and bear testimony of Him, women who are strong and immovable and who do not give up during difficult and discouraging times. We are led by an inspired prophet of God who has called upon the women of the Church to “stand strong and immovable for that which is correct and proper under the plan of the Lord.” He has asked us to 'begin in [our] own homes' to teach children the ways of truth. Latter-day Saint women should be the very best in the world at upholding, nurturing, and protecting families. I have every confidence that our women will do this.

"Mothers who know honor sacred ordinances and covenants. I have visited sacrament meetings in some of the poorest places on the earth where mothers have dressed with great care in their Sunday best despite walking for miles on dusty streets and using worn-out public transportation. They bring daughters in clean and ironed dresses with hair brushed to perfection; their sons wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts. These mothers know they are going to sacrament meeting, where covenants are renewed. These mothers have made and honor temple covenants. They know that if they are not pointing their children to the temple, they are not pointing them toward desired eternal goals. These mothers have influence and power.

"Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role under the plan of happiness.  To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes...Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate.

"Mothers who know are leaders. In equal partnership with their husbands, they lead a great and eternal organization. These mothers plan for the future of their organization. They plan for missions, temple marriages, and education. They plan for prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. Mothers who know build children into future leaders and are the primary examples of what leaders look like. They do not abandon their plan by succumbing to social pressure and worldly models of parenting. These wise mothers who know are selective about their own activities and involvement to conserve their limited strength in order to maximize their influence where it matters most.

"Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home."

Monday, February 25, 2013

fix it

Claire came home from school in tears today. Unknown to me, Claire's carpool companion who does the afternoon drive didn't go to school today, but had planned on coming to school later in the day. She didn't, but her parents called the school and asked them to tell Claire that they would still be picking her up anyway. The office relayed to Claire that HER dad would be picking her up after dance club. This delighted Claire as her Daddy is always at work after school, and she anticipated some sort of a fun adventure. When school was over and her normal carpool showed up, she assured them that her dad was picking her up. The carpool called me to confirm this after school---it was the first time I had heard anything of it. I was pretty sure Taylor would have mentioned to me that he was picking Claire up, so I told them to take Claire home. She held it together all the way home, but teared up the second she made eye contact with me.

I couldn't get her to tell me what was wrong. Through her tears she told me about the misunderstanding, but insisted that that wasn't the problem. I held her for a long time, but she would not tell me what the problem was. The longer we sat, the more tears fell. I prayed that she would tell me. I prayed to know how to ask her to get her to tell me. Finally I asked her if she could write down the problem. She agreed. I provided a pen and notebook, and she provided the answer:

"Somebody stole my cookie." She was clearly upset as she wrote that sentence because she usually does so much better at spelling. Apparently she unpacked her lunchbox at lunch, had a bite of cookie, started on her sandwich, chatted with a friend, and when time came to finish up her scrumptious, homemade peanut-butter-chocolate-chip/chocolate-chip cookie it was gone. She's certain it was stolen. I'm leaving room for eating without knowing or dropping it all together. It was devastating.

This experience, however, represents two victories to me.

First. I'm glad that she can write about what is bothering her. This, to me, is an invaluable skill. I can't tell you how many blog posts I have written and never posted because when I finished writing, I realized that I just needed to write it for ME, not for the world. Same with facebook posts and comments. I seriously erase half of what I write on facebook before I press enter. That's a skill I wish a lot more people could harness! I'm glad that Claire is brave enough to write when she cannot speak.

Second. This was easy to fix. In ten minutes she had cookie dough. Fifteen more minutes and she was dunking a warm cookie in cold milk. Problem solved. Mom's the greatest. And now with the new batch of cookies, there will be another cookie tomorrow! [Some for me too!]

I realize that all of her problems are not that easy to fix. She's already experienced quite a bit of friend drama in her 2-year stint in public school. In kindergarten she had a best friend, but there was a poor girl who always wanted to be the third wheel. Girl #3 wasn't nice in her antics (she had older sisters who no-doubt taught her some interesting tactics on friendship). This year, in a new school, while Claire has friends, she's yet to find anything as solid as she had last year when she knew that no matter what she would have Hannah there. I know this is common. It still hurts my heart a bit.

I know that there are bound to be many more days that she walks through our door in tears. And her problems will get more complex as time goes by. But today I am the hero. And know what? I'm going to bet that writing and warm chocolate chip cookies will probably solve problems in the future.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

And after that unscheduled break...

You know how they had that long, unplanned half-hour break in the Super Bowl? My blog just had a long, unplanned break. It was mostly caused by pregnancy, and then a baby with colic. And then when the colic was gone he slept less during the day, and my life just kind of fell apart. The baby is obviously more of a priority than the blog. And getting dressed. And cleaning the house. And folding the laundry. And making more than one dish (if that) for dinner. Just keeping it real here, folks.

Anyway, I hope to write more. I blog in my head all the time while I'm nursing the baby, but it hasn't quite ever made it to the computer---for above-mentioned reasons, and also because I'm just getting past that "I'm suddenly stupid" postpartum stage. Does that happen to you too? Words don't come, ideas don't make sense, and the only thing you really know for sure is when the baby needs to eat next.

Gray is 6 months old now (the above picture is today). He's a hard baby. I thought I'd had a hard baby before, but he's reached new heights on our measuring stick. He likes to be entertained. He likes to be held. He does not like to be put down to sleep at all. We do put him down though. Every time. He just doesn't like that. That said, he is my best eater. As long as you smile while you force "garden vegetables" into his mouth, he smiles back and hungrily eats whatever is offered. He's affectionate. I was showered (literally) with kissed for a good 30 minutes upon returning from Relief Society tonight. He is happy, happy, happy. He giggles just looking at Kyle. He'll contently watch cartoons with Claire. He'd happily chew on my hand all day. He's good natured and bright.

I'm still grateful every day, even though he's hard and an awful sleeper. With the exception of maybe 5 days that I've been too busy to really think about it, I think I have had a moment or two every single day in the last six month where I have been in tears or near tears with gratitude for my baby. I think of the daily fear I felt last year at this time when we didn't know if the progesterone would actually stop my cycle of miscarriages. I think of the years before where my arms longed for a baby. I hold that baby and hear his breath and feel his warmth and my heart overflows. Every. Single. Day.

Call me a sentimental fool. Or maybe a hormonal fool. But I do think about it every day. And it's not that I didn't love my other babies. I just appreciate that I get to have Gray a little more. Maybe it's that I'm older and wiser and know how quickly time will pass (and oh, how it has passed too quickly already!).

Now that 6 months have passed, my house is finally coming back together. I've cooked a little bit more. I took the last Christmas wreath down today (and it really is a WINTER wreath), and we're ready for Valentine's day. I see the light at the end of the newborn tunnel. I've loved the tunnel, but I'm excited to get back to normal---or at least to discover our new normal with 3 kids.